HHS Seeks Patient Feedback About HIT

Elyas Bakhtiari, May 17, 2010

The Department of Health and Human Services is preparing two surveys that aim to gather information about patients' preferences and satisfaction with electronic health records and personal health records in order to improve nationwide HIT adoption efforts.

Both surveys were announced in the May 14 Federal Register.

To learn more about the value of PHR adoption, HHS plans to survey about 500 Medicare beneficiaries who are enrolled in the Medicare PHR Choice Pilot, which launched in January 2009 in Arizona and Utah. The program encouraged fee-for-service beneficiaries to enroll in one of several available PHR services to track their own health and healthcare services.

"We know very little about why consumers, and specifically Medicare beneficiaries, elect to use PHRs and what functionality they want from a PHR," HHS wrote in the Federal Register. "Understanding these needs will be critical if HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are to pursue PHRs as a tool to empower consumers to manage their health and have the capability to link to their provider's EHR."

HHS hasn't yet indicated if they plan to expand the pilot project, but the results of the survey could determine whether Medicare adopts a national PHR program.

The second survey will be designed to assess the gap between patients' and providers' perceptions about how EHR systems affect the delivery of care. It will focus particularly on primary care practices, and the goal is to understand how having an EHR in a primary care office affects consumers' satisfaction with their care, their communication with their doctor, and the coordination of care.

HHS plans to gather information about EHR preferences through three projects: A survey that will collect information directly from 840 patients, a screening and recruitment form for staff at primary care practices, and a focus group of about 20 patients from primary care practices.

Although the survey is intended to enhance the effectiveness of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which set aside more than $19 billion for EHR adoption, it also may address a concern that some providers have had since the program began: that EHR adoption could initially hinder, rather than help, care delivery and the physician-patient relationship.

"The research questions for the proposed Patient Perceptions of EHR Study are motivated by a concern that patients may have negative experiences as practices begin to use EHRs," HHS wrote in the proposal.

However, with many providers already moving forward with EHR implementation in order to capture the first available reimbursement bonuses in 2011, it is unlikely that the survey results will be compiled in time to change any policy or requirements before most providers roll out their new systems.

Both survey proposals are open for comments and suggestions for 30 days.

Elyas Bakhtiari Elyas Bakhtiari is a freelance editor for HealthLeaders Media.
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